[Wgcp-whc] New year--our schedule, 1st session 9/10
richard.deming at yale.edu
Tue Aug 24 18:31:07 EDT 2010
August is winding down and with each day the new academic year draws
nearer. This means, amongst other things, that a new year of the
Working Group in Contemporary Poetry and Poetics will soon begin and
this may be our most exciting year yet.
For newcomers to our group, here's our official description:
The Working Group in Contemporary Poetry and Poetics meets every other
Friday at 3.00 PM in room 116 at the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale
University to discuss problems and issues of contemporary poetry
within international alternative and /or avant-garde traditions of
lyric poetry. All are welcome to attend.
Our slate of visitors and discussions for this fall is set. This fall
will feature discussions with the poets C.D. Wright, Pierre Alferi,
and David Shapiro. We'll also have a session led by our very own
Hilary Kaplan (poet/translator/scholar) devoted to the work of
Brazilian experimental poet Angelica Freitas.
Here's the whole semester's schedule at a glance:
Friday, September 10 , 3 p.m.
Readings: OXO By Pierre Alferi
WGCP Meeting, Pierre Alferi Visit
Friday, September 17 , 3 p.m.
Readings: OXO By Pierre Alferi
Related Event: Jean Valentine Poetry Reading
Wednesday, September 29, 4:00 pm
Beinecke Library, 121 Wall Street
Yale Collection of American Literature Reading Series
Contact: nancy.kuhl at yale.edu
WGCP Meeting: a Discussion of the work of Angélica Freitas, led by
translator Hilary Kaplan
Friday, October 8, 3 p.m.
Readings: Angélica Freitas readings TBA; essay by Hilary Kaplan
Friday, October 22, 3 p.m.
Readings: C. D. Wright work TBA
WGCP Meeting: C. D. Wright Visit
Friday, November 5, 3 p.m.
Friday, December 3, 3 p.m.
Readings: David Shapiro work TBA
WGCP Meeting, David Shapiro Visit
Friday, December 10, 3 p.m.
As you'll see, our first sessions are very soon into the semester--the
first two Fridays. This is to accommodate Pierre Alfreri who is
traveling to the U.S. from France. We will meet on Sept 7 to discuss
Alferi's book OXO (translated by Cole Swensen). Copies are available
to group members and can be picked up from our mailbox in the main
office of the Whitney Humanities Center . They are there now and
these copies tend to go quickly so don't wait to get yours. Alferi
will then join us on the 17th to have a conversation about his work.
Here is some information about Alferi and his book (from his official
bio note at the European Graduate School site)
Pierre Alféri is a French novelist, poet, and essayist, born in 1963
in France, and currently living in Paris. He earned a degree in
Philosophy at the University of Paris and published his thesis on
William of Ockham (Guillaume d'Ockham) in 1989. In 1991, he published
another philosophical essay on questions of language and literature,
Chercher une phrase. Nevertheless, Alféri did not pursue an academic
career in philosophy; instead, he became one of the most innovative
French poets of today. He has since published several books of poetry,
including Les Allures naturelles (1991), Le Chemin familier du poisson
combatif (1992), Kub Or (1994), Sentimentale journée (1997), La Voie
des airs (2004) as well as the novels Fmn (1994) and Le cinéma des
familles (1999), and most recently Les Jumelles (2009).
In Alféri's poetry, language plays a very important role. One of his
widely praised collections of poems, Kub Or (translated into English
as Oxo), uses the concept of the bouillon cube, with each poem two-
dimensionally reflecting a side of the cube. The book consists of
seven poems, each poem made up of seven lines and each line composed
of seven syllables. Being not only a propitiatory number, a good omen
and the number of daily life, the number seven also challenges the
dominant prosody in French poetry and the use of even-numbered
syllabic lines. This asymmetric meter produces surprises, cuts and
overlapping, with each poem describing some aspect of modern Paris in
seven short lines. Being interested in the minutiae of modern life, it
comes as no surprise that the media occupy the center of attention in
these poems – cinema, TV, advertising – as well as the artifacts of
low and high culture. Alféri takes the reader on a journey through the
streets, commercial life, politics, music, and the questions of how
much the figures from the past inhabit the consciousness of the
present. As a poet, he is not alienated, but always prepared to engage
actively with the variety of experiences he encounters. In the same
way, this engagement is expected from the reader as well – if the
poems are bouillon cubes, the mind of the reader is the boiling water
in which to dissolve them and fully taste the modern life.
I'll paste below a useful review of Oxo by John Couth. In the
meantime, pick up your copy and we'll convene on Sept 7 for another
exciting year of the WGCP.
Richard Deming, Co-coordinator
Pierre Alferi: Oxo
(Translated by Cole Swensen; Burning Deck, Providence, R.I., 2005;
paperback, 60pp, $10; isbn 1886224668)
Pierre Alferi has published four books of poetry in his native French:
Oxo is the translation into English by Cole Swensen of his third book
(Kub Or, 1994). Although it would have been interesting to have the
French original on the page opposite the translated text, it's evident
from the acknowledgement that poet and translator have worked in close
collaboration. (Also one can make out the case for exclusion of the
originals on aesthetic grounds because, for this book to
work, its presentation must remain visually sparse and tightly
conceived.) The language style that results is informal, American and
The book's structure relies on the notion of the bouillon cube, with
each poem two dimensionally reflecting a side – but this is no
conventional regular hexahedron, rather one reliant on cube as in
root, in this case a cube root of seven. Each poem is made up of seven
lines of seven syllables, with each section containing seven poems.
These comprise the 'cube' which Alferi offers to imaginative
In Hebrew the number seven represents completeness and totality; in
Oxo, the poet seeks to make complete, to give shape, pattern to
disparate experiences of daily city life – the seven sections
represent the completeness, the totality of the ordering system. The
floating impressions of a succession of external and internal
experiences require structure if sense is to follow, poet and reader
work side by side as the generators of such order and understanding.
An idea of what's being attempted is signalled in 'preface', the
seventh poem in the book:
here is seven times seven
times seven times seven a
far-fetched grunge idea for
you in hard cubes of almost
anything goes like on T.
V. in fact it's almost as
good as compacting the trash
It's 'a grunge idea . . . like on T.V.' and like TV the book combines
all things together regardless of connection or harmony; the unifying
principle is the medium, as here it's the bouillon 'compacting the
trash'. The artefacts of the low and high cultures of the Paris
cityscape are ordered within the book like a succession of adverts
within a commercial break which jostle for our attention while
sequentially contributing to a greater picture. The book's final poem,
entitled 'coda', talks about the absorbency of 'tampon words', at once
both redolent of personal and cultural reference, which need to be
'unfurled', dissolved in our psyches if we are to glimpse beneath
surfaces. Interpretively, we must create the 'boiling water' in which
to dissolve these poems that represent to us the variety and intensity
of experiences we daily encounter but may fail to make mean. Alferi
suggests that just as under scrutiny the poems will continue unfold
new meanings, so too will experience. It's like greedily supping the
ah it's so very ah how
absorbent these tampon words
made to be unfurled so
quick one more one last one quick
The book's first poem introduces the notion of a shuffled 'flip-book',
which fits appositely with our experience of the rapid succession of
scenes that ensue, that and the cinematic technique of the jump cut.
Playing such a central part in contemporary life, it's little surprise
that the media should occupy Alferi's attention – cinema, TV, the
Walkman, advertising are reduced to their cubes of scrutiny.
But everything's worthy of attention. In 'regular', the poet focuses
on the meaning-full, important sounding, quasi-scientific language of
a health product ad, replete with its evident vacuous inability to
deliver – the 'if' of the poem's beginning creating the logical
uncertainty of what the 'low low price of regular' can never buy:
if it's true that it contains
quite naturally the enzyme
necessary for modern
life then this built-in leak-proof
agent protects enriches
the ozone layer at the
low low price of regular
Other of the poems in the 'shuffle' deal with street and commercial
life, politics, music and the ways in which figures from high culture,
such as Charles Ives and Flaubert, can inhabit a consciousness in the
. . . all I can tell you
is that life which paces you
in the distance as Paris
once did me will but too late
be completely fulfilling.
the france of henry james
Oxo expresses Alfieri's determination not to be paced 'in the distance'.
The tone of the poems range from humorous, satirical, affectionate,
resigned, committed; alienation is never an issue, with the poet at
all times prepared to engage intelligently with the variety of
experience/reality he encounters. The language throughout is spare and
precise, as one might expect given the strictures of form, almost
devoid of tropes, closer indeed to what Aristotle might have described
as rhetoric. The cube device allows for nothing wasteful – dissolution
of the bouillon is only possible through the reader's engagement.
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